Whether it’s in times of stress or comfort, most people have a list of their go-to stories and sources for entertainment. Be it a favorite book, film, game, or locale, there’s a joy of deeper and renewed discovery in the familiar. I have a number of books and movies that I make the effort to return to every year, but as my annual list grows, it becomes vastly more difficult to get through the list as years go by; even more so as adult life takes over.
There’s a game that I simply can’t help but return to at least once a month, Faster Than Light, even after its six years of existence.
Developed by Subset Games, the randomly generated space exploration and combat simulator puts you in the seat of an interstellar ship desperately trying to outrun a fleet of rebel ships. Through their adventures, players encounter and recruit a diverse crew of aliens, each one with uniquely strategic advantages and disadvantages. The randomness introduced makes each playthrough entirely different, forcing players to keep on their toes, constantly adjusting plans and developing new strategies. But by far, the best part of the game is the ability to drop in and drop out as desired. Each play session could be as short as a single mission, lasting roughly sixty-seconds, or a full campaign that could last an hour, depending on your success. It’s a quick and easy way to get a pixel-art gaming fix.
But if Faster Than Light is a pixelated Firefly simulator, Subset Games’ newest release, Into The Breach, can best be described as kaiju Advance Wars. Played on a virtual chessboard, players control three kaiju sized mechs in a turn-based showdown against the Vek, an insect like race of kaiju that are threatening life as we know it. The twist? Your mechs and pilots are from the future, giving them knowledge of exactly how the Vex plan to attack. It’s up to you and the pilots to alter the timeline and save Earth from destruction.
When first starting a new game, players only have the option to pick the Rift Walkers loadout and the default pilot. It’s a limiting opening, but a well rounded way to start game mechanics and experimenting with different strategies. At the mech selection screen, players will notice other grayed-out loudouts that can be purchased with in-game currency at a later point in time. Currency can be earned by completing Squad Achievements, which are specific challenges designed for each mech loadout. Completing one of these challenges earns the player one gold that can be put toward permanent unlocks. For example, the Rift Walkers achievement, Watery Grave, asks players to drown three Vek in a single battle. Each one of these challenges requires forward thinking, and on the occasion, specific equipment, but making Squad Achievements the primary goal while playing will pay off quickly.
Each battle takes place on an 8×8 grid, mimicking a standard chess board. At the round open, players will be given a portion of the board where they can choose to place their three mech units. Once players select their starting tiles, the battle begins. Opening with the enemy turn, Vek units will move around the board, targeting either mechs or cities that power the time machine keeping you and your team in the past. Acting as your team’s health, the power grid meter in the upper left will delete one segment for each city lost. If the power grid is depleted, you lose the ability to sustain the current timeline and your game is over. With careful planning, this outcome can be easily avoided.
Even though the Vek move first, they do not attack during the same turn. Instead, the Vek move into position and telegraph their upcoming attack actions, granting the player the opportunity to plan their moves and attacks. During this time, players can directly attack Vek to decrease their health, use push moves to force Vek into water (or other hazards) where they’ll drown instantly, repair mechs, or shield a city from an enemy projectile with your own unit. Despite having prior knowledge of enemy movement, Into The Breach, is not a walk in the park, but as good ol’ G.I Joe used to say, “Knowing, is half that battle.”
The challenge of Into The Breach comes from the constant need to balance the long game against the short one. Do you damage your mech and risk losing your pilot and all of the skills they’ve learned, or do you allow your power grid to take another hit, reducing priceless energy? The difficulty doubles when you take into consideration that many of your attacks will deal collateral damage.
Should you fail by losing your entire power grid or all of your mechs, that timeline is terminated and you’ll be forced to begin again. In the case where the game ends as a result of a depleted power grid, any remaining pilots will attempt to evacuate the timeline and return home. But as a result of your depleted power, only one can return; forcing players to choose only one of their surviving pilots to live on.
Thankfully, each completed mission, or region on the map, will grant essential rewards. Indicated by symbols on each location, players will earn reputation (denoted by stars), energy restored to their power grid (denoted by a lightning bolt), or a reactor core (mech upgrade). However, each of these rewards are earned only by completing specific objectives while on the mission. Simply completing the mission is not enough to earn bonuses.
The game is comprised of four main islands, followed by a smaller one where the final battle takes place. Players can choose to complete islands in any order they desire. Once an island has been selected, players will progress through it, completing one region at a time. After completing the several regions, the local Vek leader will emerge, closing remaining regions, and beginning a boss scenario. If players are able to survive the Vek leader, they are granted the opportunity to exchange reputation for valuable power-ups before moving onto the next island.
Each new island will introduce unique terrain types that will provide players with new strategic options necessary to succeed. Like the ice that will wear down as characters occupy tiles until it breaks, dropping Vek into an icy bath below. Or the caustic A.C.I.D that weakens defense, nearly doubling damage to those afflicted.
Into The Breach is a fantastic game for any one who considers themselves a strategist, or simply wants a quick drop-in drop-out experience. It is most certainly a difficult game, but difficulty settings will provide relief for players who don’t want to be annihilated. The wide array of playable characters and enemies keep the game fresh and give players unparalleled variety. In classic Subset Games fashion, detailed pixel art makes otherwise simple visuals, a real treat. As of right now, Into The Breach is being offered at $14.99 on Steam and is worth every cent.
The simple pixel art is an absolute delight.
After sinking twelve hours in, there’s still plenty to discover.
Music and sound effects are pretty forgettable.
Mothra meets Pacific Rim on a chess board. What else needs to be said?
Final Verdict: 8.5
Into The Breach is available now on PC.
A copy of Into The Breach was provided by the publisher.